If hundreds of television stations had to modify their facilities and change their broadcast channels at roughly the same time, how long would it take and how much would it cost? The FCC wants to know, and it is seeking input from broadcasters and other stakeholders to find out.
On March 20, 2014, the FCC’s Media Bureau issued a Public Notice seeking comments on a report, commissioned by the FCC and prepared by Widelity, Inc., that attempts to document the variety of actions broadcasters and MVPDs invevitably will undertake when the Commission repacks the broadcast spectrum after the incentive auction. The Widelity Report also updates the “Catalog of Eligible Expenses,” first released in September 2013, to incorporate feedback and to assign costs to each potential expense.
Widelity concluded that the repacking process “will pose significant challenges to the industry” and that “a number of potential bottlenecks in the post-repacking transition process . . . may potentially extend the amount of time a station needs to complete construction of its new facilities.”
In addition to identifying, generally, what is involved in changing a station’s channel, Widelity also included four case studies to highlight the tasks and corresponding costs that stations in certain situations might face. Notably, the repacking expenses identified in the case studies ranged from $588,000 to $2.7 million per station. Even at the higher end of this range, the $1.75 billion repacking fund would allow the FCC to pay the full repacking costs for more than 500 stations while still having funds leftover for MVPD relocation costs. Meanwhile, Widelity estimated that, while certain modifications might be completed in less than a year, a complicated modification, such as one involving broadcast from Sutro Tower in California, would take approximately 41 months assuming there were no glitches. The report raises serious questions about whether the post-auction transition can be completed in three years (the statutory deadline for reimbursement of relocation costs), much less the shorter periods suggested in the incentive auction NPRM and embraced by some commenters in the incentive auction proceeding.
Comments on the Widelity Report are due by April 21, and reply comments are due by May 6.